Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 March 2018

De-cluttering is essential, but then so is nostalgia

The constant battle between hoarding and unloading has us all where it wants us 

Be selective when choosing what treasured memories to hold on to. Iakov Filimonov / Alamy Stock Photo
Be selective when choosing what treasured memories to hold on to. Iakov Filimonov / Alamy Stock Photo

I’m sure you’ve heard of The Magic Art of Tidying Up, Mari Kondo’s best-selling book about how to de-clutter our living spaces so that they bring us joy. First published in 2011, this book got millions of people following her advice, down to even the most wacky suggestions, like thanking your t-shirts for their service before putting them away in the "KonMari"-approved fashion.

I read this book when it first came out and I wanted to be a believer. I whispered “thank you” to my t-shirts, sorted through the snowdrifts of paper piled on my desk, and tried to be heartless about mementos and trinkets so that I only kept the truly meaningful objects.

Full disclosure? I failed. I’m a de-cluttering dropout.

Or at least, I was. But this summer in New York, I saw Kondo’s book and as I flipped through it, I vowed again to try and seek joy in her "tidying up" magic.

My husband and I had already promised our two sons that when we got back to Abu Dhabi at the end of the summer, we could update their bedrooms to make them more age-appropriate, and so in addition to bringing me a clean desk and a joyful closet, I thought that maybe Kondo’s strategies could help streamline the re-do process.

You might think it odd to embark on a massive household overhaul immediately after a summer away, but because jet-lag always induces in me a kind of existential despair, in which I am sure that my life is a disaster and always will be, there was something vaguely satisfying in matching my inner disarray with an external mess. The first step in the KonMari process is to dump out the contents of the closet in order to weed out the joyful items and discard the rest. Initially, it was easy: into the discard bin went skirts with waistbands that were once aspirational but are now impossible, shoes that had been in a storage bin under the bed for at least two years, yoga pants that had seen one too many down-dog poses. It got harder – and my definition of “joy” got looser – as I got tired (and bored), but at least I returned far fewer items to the closet than I had started with.

My Kondo resolve wobbled, however, when it came time for the promised “re-do” of the boys’ bedrooms. I’ve found things that the boys didn't want but I couldn't bring myself to toss. How could I throw away the white t-shirt (now far too small for either child) that one of them customized for our first National Day with a hand-drawn UAE flag and childish lettering that spelled out UAE Forty? Should I really give away the little stuffed bear that the younger boy treasured for years as a faithful friend and bedtime companion?

Don’t tell Mari, but I put those things (and more) into a big box labeled “nostalgia” and then I stashed the box in my (less crowded) closet. My kids are growing up, and while that’s a wonderful thing in many ways, it’s hard for me to say farewell to those little-boy years. Any of you who have ever stepped barefoot on a Lego piece will understand the measure of my difficulty when I say that I’ve even felt wistful about getting rid of the Lego sets.

We’re about three days into the bedroom re-do and the Kondo-ization of my personal space. The jet lag is lifting, and so my life seems like less of a disaster, although perhaps that’s due to my t-shirts being happier in my closet than they used to be.

I’m not sure I can carry through with a full Kondo, however. She’d say it’s because I’m too attached to “stuff” and maybe that’s true. On the other hand, when she wrote that book, Kondo didn’t have any children. Now she has a baby, born last year, so perhaps we can expect a book from her in about 13 years – not about the magical art of tidying up and letting go, but the magical art of putting-away-for-the-grandchildren-just-in-case.